National Security Network

Memo to the Community: Newspaper Presidential Endorsements and National Security

Print this page
Report 31 October 2008

Afghanistan iraq john mccain national security Newspaper endorsements

To: Interested Parties
From: Moira Whelan and Ilan Goldenberg, National Security Network
Re: Newspaper Presidential Endorsements and National Security

Conventional wisdom views national security and foreign policy issues as conservative turf.  But over the past few years, and especially in this presidential election, progressives have become more assertive in outlining their own vision of national security.  Today progressives are speaking about national security with greater confidence than at any time in recent memory and have consistently demonstrated the inadequacy of the conservative world view.

The payoff in this campaign, even with economic issues seizing the headlines, is clear in a National Security Network review of newspaper endorsements nationwide. Overall:

  • As of October 29, 2008, Barack Obama received 231 endorsements from newspapers with readership of over 21 million people while 102 papers with readership of 7 million endorsed John McCain;
  • 46 newspapers that endorsed President Bush in 2004 went for Senator Obama during this cycle;
  • 158 of Obama’s endorsements specifically cited foreign policy as an important reason for giving him their support.

In the editorial boards’ own words, the choice of Obama has much to do with several common national security themes: the inappropriateness of McCain’s temperament for a dangerous world, the similarity of his ideas to those of President Bush, the need to repair our image around the world, the priority of the challenge in Afghanistan, and the desire to have a foreign policy that includes smart diplomacy. The prevalence of these common themes provides an important example of progressive national security ideas having a pivotal impact on the mainstream political dialogue. What follows is a summary of these themes:

McCain’s “temperament” with regard to world affairs was a major reason for Obama endorsements.  42 percent of editorial boards that endorsed Obama contrasted the temperament of the two candidates when discussing the commander-in-chief test.  McCain’s “maverick” style is not a quality Americans seek in a commander-in-chief – and newspapers saw it this to be a clear national security problem. The San Francisco Chronicle writes, “The Illinois senator was…deliberative - in contrast with McCain's quick-draw provocation - when Russia invaded Georgia in August.”  The Stockton Record says “ [McCain] tends to shoot from the hip and go on gut instinct. The nation cannot go through four more years of literally and figuratively shooting now and asking questions later.”  The Detroit Free Press writes that McCain’s campaign “has been marked by stunts and gimmicks, gaffes and shifts that call into question McCain's temperament and, most of all, his judgment.” McCain’s temperament is often unfavorably compared to that of Senator Barack Obama, which is praised as “calm and deliberate.” In general, a common theme throughout the endorsements is the observation that McCain is “a hair-trigger hawk” like Bush, a fact that undermines his experience with foreign policy.  The Bangor Daily News slams his “reckless choice of Sarah Palin,” his “boiling moralism,” and his “dismaying temperament.”  [San Francisco Chronicle (CA), 10/17/2008. The Stockton Record (CA), 9/26/2008. Detroit Free Press (MI), 10/18/2008. Bangor Daily News (ME), 10/18/2008]

The similarity of McCain’s foreign policy to that of President Bush is a consistent theme.   32 percent of editorials endorsing Obama argued that McCain’s foreign policy was too similar to that of George W. Bush.  The Durango Herald writes that McCain is “intellectually and emotionally trapped in a bygone era” and that like Bush he offers “more of the wars” that have “mired future generations in debt.” The Palm Beach Post contradicts McCain’s statement during the debate that “I am not President Bush,” calling it “one last failed attempt to convince enough voters that a McCain administration would be much different from the Bush administration” on issues such as Iraq.  The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette continues the criticism of McCain’s Iraq policy: McCain “has persisted in flogging failed policies. With McCain…more American blood will be spilled.” The Burlington Hawk Eye says “Nearly all of Bush’s initiatives won favor from Republican John McCain,” which “led us into unnecessary war in Iraq” and “eroded our credibility around the world.” The Kansas City Star cautions that “Although claiming to be a change agent, he is following in Bush’s footsteps on…war in Iraq” [The Durango Herald (CO), 10/12/2008. Palm Beach Post (FL), 10/19/08. Fort Wayne Journal Gazette (IN), 10/19/08. The Hawk Eye (IA), 10/19/08. Kansas City Star (MO), 10/21/08]  

The need to repair US image around the world is central.  54 percent of editorials endorsing Obama cited the need to repair America’s image and embrace diplomacy. The St. Louis Post Dispatch made its endorsement because of “the damage that has been done to America's moral standing in the world in the last eight years — by a preemptory war, a unilateralist foreign policy and by policies that have treated both the Geneva Conventions and our own Bill of Rights as optional.” The Quad-City Times writes, “We support a presidential candidate predisposed toward reaching out to world leaders, not one entrenched in Cold War-style standoffs.” The Sacramento Bee confirms that Obama “will begin to restore America's relations with its allies and its standing in the community of nations.” The Seattle Post Intelligencer writes that diplomacy should be “fundamental, not an afterthought on the way to war.” The presence of this theme indicates that Americans are aware that our image around the world has been tarnished by the last 8 years, and we must restore our standing not through force, but through engagement. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), 10/12/08. Quad-City Times (IA/IL), 10/26/08. Sacramento Bee (CA), 10/12/2008. Seattle Post-Intelligencer (WA), 10/6/08]  

The progressive narrative -- that Afghanistan is the central foreign policy challenge and Iraq is a distraction -- is widely accepted.  31 percent of editorials endorsing Obama argued that the Bush administration’s failed Iraq policy has distracted us from the real danger in Afghanistan.  In fact, 15 of the 46 newspapers that supported Bush in ’04 agreed this year that “Our military is bogged down in Iraq while terrorists are regrouping in Afghanistan” and cited the situation in Afghanistan as being a reason for their endorsement.  The Naples Daily News acknowledges that, “Obama has more clarity and urgency on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He would set a course for bringing troops home from their victory in the former and move resources, allies and local and regional support to prosecute the latter more strategically.” The San Francisco Chronicle, a newspaper with over 370,000 readers, says, “the threat of terrorism has not gone away. As Obama has noted, the invasion of Iraq diverted resources and attention from what should be the main front on terrorism: the rugged terrain along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where al Qaeda and, presumably, its leader, Osama bin Laden, retreated after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.”  The South Florida Sun Sentinel faults McCain for supporting the Iraq war and for supporting Bush in “prioritizing Iraq over Afghanistan, and in prioritizing Saddam Hussein over Osama bin Laden.” The Yakima Herald Republic says “Obama plans to put together a reasonable exit strategy for Iraq -- something lacking from the get-go with the Bush administration. At the same time, he repeatedly said during debates that Afghanistan is where the focus should be and that he will go after Osama bin Laden and ‘take him out’ if given the opportunity.” [Las Cruces Sun News (NM), 10/18/08. San Francisco Chronicle (CA), 10/17/2008. Naples Daily News (FL), 10/19/08. South Florida Sun-Sentinel (FL), 10/26/08. Yakima Herald-Republic (WA), 10/18/08]   

The American public recognizes that we need to talk to our enemies.  In a campaign season where the issue of talking to our enemies has become so important, it is significant that 54 percent of Obama’s endorsements called for more diplomacy while 16 percent specifically support engaging in tough diplomacy with America’s adversaries.  The Contra Costa Times asks, “When did it hurt to sit down and talk to our enemies?” The Gainesville Sun faults McCain for his “Cold War-era attitudes towards global conflict resolution.” The Register-Guard of Oregon praises “Obama’s readiness, much derided by McCain, to conduct diplomacy with hostile nations. It’s easy to characterize such willingness as appeasement — easy and wrong.”  These endorsements represent a realization, as the Orlando Sentinel says, that engaging “in tough negotiations with enemies is not naive or irresponsible; it's an approach followed before by presidents from both parties.” [Contra Costa Times (CA), 10/12/2008. The Gainesville Sun (FL) 10/26/08, Register-Guard (OR), 10/18/08, Orlando Sentinel (FL), 10/19/08]  

*Special thanks to Eric Auner for his assistance with this project.